Checking your privilege—the aspects of your life that give you a leg up—is the first step to tackling hidden biases.

By Craig and Marc Kielburger


A San Francisco woman called police to report a black child selling water on the sidewalk. Two Native American teens were yanked out of a college tour in Colorado when a woman told police that the boys “don’t belong.” And, in the most famous case, two black men were arrested for sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks, prompting the coffee chain to close 8,000 stores for anti-bias training.

It’s not just America. A black man in Quebec was falsely accused of theft at a bank. And newly-released data shows that 16 per cent of ‘random’ street checks by Vancouver police target Indigenous peoples, although they represent just two per cent of the city’s population.

Canadians take great pride in our diverse culture. But even the best of us can fall prey to prejudices lurking in the depths of our minds. To be our best selves, and our best society, we should strive to drag those biases into our conscious minds. Then, kick them out.

But how do people teach themselves to counter a bias that they’re not consciously aware of? And how can the average person check their own prejudices without the resources of Starbucks to hire professionals and organize moderated sessions?

It is entirely possible for each of us, in our social groups, workplaces, or as individuals, to undertake some version of anti-bias exercises.

First, reflect on your privilege—the aspects of your life likely taken for granted that still give you a leg up. Professional anti-bias trainers like Toronto-based consultant Jade Pichette demonstrate differences in privilege using physical space. You may have seen “the privilege walk” on YouTube. A group stands in a row and one person calls out instructions: if your parents went to university, take one step forward; if you were ever stopped by police because of your race, take one step back. By the end, privilege has physically separated the group in a visual reminder of the external obstacles that only hinder some groups.

“If you’re aware of privilege, you can be aware of biases, and that has an impact on how you treat the rest of world,” Pichette says.

Various privilege assessments are available online, for groups and individuals.

Once biases or obstacles are exposed, learn more about the impact on others. Trainers often invite guest speakers with relevant personal experiences, but you’re not going to book a special guest to address the family over dinner. And it’s rude, perhaps even triggering, to approach friends or co-workers uninvited and ask them about being a minority, Pichette says. Instead, seek out community groups, libraries and universities that conduct speaker series. Reading books or blogs written by authors who don’t share your background has been proven to build empathy, and will offer insight into another perspective.

No amount of games or books will cure unconscious bias. But opening discussion is the first step to understanding, ongoing communication and ultimately action.

Checking privilege isn’t about guilt or shaming. We’d say it’s one of the highest forms of self-improvement. In tackling our own hidden biases, we’re not just becoming better people—we’re creating a more just and equitable society.

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